Kenneth Smith’s Execution by Nitrogen Gas and Rocky Myers’ Case
Kenneth Smith, 58, was executed in Alabama on January 25, 2024, after spending 36 years in prison. During his incarceration, Smith engaged in religious and educational activities, earning an associate degree. Known for his respectful and conscientious demeanor, he became a trusted confidant to many of those on death row.
This marked the state’s second attempt to carry out his death sentence; the first attempt in 2022, using lethal injection, was unsuccessful. On this occasion, Alabama employed the novel method of nitrogen hypoxia. According to the Associated Press, the execution took 22 minutes and Smith appeared to be awake for several of the minutes.
For at least two minutes, [Kenneth] appeared to shake, and writhe on the gurney, sometimes pulling at the restraints.Associated Press
The willingness of Alabama to proceed with this new cruel and degrading method of execution marks a chilling milestone. It puts those who have elected this method, like Rocky Myers, a Black man who has been on death row for 30 years, in imminent danger.
Smith, like Rocky, was sentenced to death after a judge overrode the jury’s vote for life imprisonment without parole. Overruling a jury in this way was outlawed in Alabama in 2017; but Smith, Rocky, and approximately 30 others on death row did not benefit from the reform, despite international human rights standards granting the benefit of legislative changes to convicted prisoners when lighter punishments are introduced.
Like Smith, Rocky faces the grim prospect of execution in a system fraught with complexities and controversies. It’s imperative that we mobilize and take action to ensure another unjust execution does not happen.
Rocky doesn’t want to die. He has said that he gets sick to his stomach every time something comes up about nitrogen hypoxia and executions. The recent execution of Kenny Smith has made this new method a frightening reality.Kacey Keeton, Rocky Myers Lawyer
Rocky Myers, 53, grew up in New Jersey and is described by those who know him as gentle and kind. He loves sports, played drums in his church choir and is a man of deep faith. His four children describe him as a loving father, and he adores them, along with his grandchildren and his nine siblings.
At age 11, Rocky was diagnosed with an intellectual disability. He finds reading hard and can’t keep dates straight in his head, but he loves pictures. Rocky has expressed gratitude for the many postcards he receives from Amnesty members, and people all over the world, who share their location through beautiful landscapes.
[Rocky] posts many of the pictures on his [cell walls] and imagines himself there. He often uses the pictures to ‘take him away’ from problems or stressful things going onKacey Keeton, Rocky Myers Lawyer
What Happened to Rocky Myers?
One night in 1991, in the town of Decatur, Alabama, Rocky’s life changed forever. An older white woman was murdered in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Rocky, who is Black, lived across the street. Despite no evidence linking him to the scene of the murder, except for a video cassette recorder belonging to the victim which Rocky maintains he found abandoned in the street, Rocky was convicted of the crime.
The circumstances surrounding Rocky’s conviction are deeply troubling as racial and class bias affected the proceedings:
- Rocky’s supposed jury of his peers consisted of 11 white people and 1 Black person
- Testimonies (against him) were tainted by inconsistencies and allegations of police pressure – one key witness later stated that he had lied
- Rocky’s trial lawyer, who had previously represented the Ku Klux Klan, infused the proceedings with racial and class bias, further disadvantaging Rocky
- The nearly all-white jury convicted and sentenced Rocky to life without the possibility of parole. The trial judge overrode they jury’s decision and imposed a death sentence – a practice now outlawed in Alabama
- Rocky, who has diagnosed with an intellectual disability, did not have effective legal representation and was abandoned by his post-conviction lawyer. This caused him to miss key deadlines for appeal
Rocky’s is a case where an intellectual disabled Black man was disadvantaged from the start because of poverty and a broken systemKacey Keeton, Rocky Myers’ Lawyer
Is Rocky Myers Still on Death Row?
Yes, for the past three decades Rocky has been on death row in Alabama. During Rocky’s appeal process, he was abandoned by his post-conviction lawyer and had no idea it had happened. His current lawyer, Kacey Keeton, explained Rocky only found out when he “received a letter from the Attorney General and learned his right to appeal has expired and that Alabama was moving to set an execution date”. Rocky’s intellectual disability made it difficult for him to even read that letter, and a friend of him on the row had to read it to him.
Did Rocky Myers Get Clemency?
Rocky has not been granted clemency. However, the Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, can use her authority to grant clemency to Rocky Myers and commute his death sentence – and you can support!
What Can You do to Support Rocky Myers?
Write to the Governor of Alabama
- Tell the Governor something about yourself to make this a personal letter
- Tell her what shocks you about the case of Rocky Myers
- Tell her why you think it’s important that government respect and uphold the right to life
- Urge her to use her power as Governor of Alabama to grant clemency to Rocky Myers and commute his death sentence
Address your letters to:
Governor of Alabama
Office of the Governor of Alabama
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36130
Salutation: Dear Governor
Take Rocky Myers on a World Tour
Rocky is locked in a cell with no windows, but he loves getting mail and pictures of beautiful postcards from all around the world. Send Rocky Myers your best travel postcard, photos of your hometown, drawings of where you go on holiday or places/events you love such as festivals, a theatre play, etc. Include a short message to describe the location, why you love that location, or some interesting facts about it. Some tips:
- Please include visual components. Remember, Rocky has a hard time reading, so keep your messages simple and use clear handwriting. Please write the message in English or provide an English translation if you write your message in another language.
- Choose postcards and words that are respectful, not trivial or with explicit or graphic content.
- Avoid messages or images that focus on life, death or the death penalty.
- Please make sure that your messages do not endorse any particular religion.
Address your postcards to:
Rocky Myers, AIS 0000Z563
Holman Correctional Facility, M-44
Holman 3700 866
Atmore, AL 36503
Note: Please add your full address to ensure the prison authorities allow Rocky to receive his mail.
Write or Pitch an Article
Use local or student newspapers as platforms to shed light on Rocky’s case. Writing or pitching an article can significantly broaden the reach of this campaign, informing others of the injustice and how they can contribute to the movement.
Launch a ‘drumathon’
In honor of Rocky Myers’ love for playing drums in his local church, we encourage you to launch a “drumathon” on social media. Share a video of yourself playing drums, tag Governor Ivey and encourage others to join in!
Create a “Justice for Rocky” Flag
Show your solidarity by creating a flag or banner with the message “Justice for Rocky.” Be sure to include your municipality and country to demonstrate the global support for Rocky’s case. Share images of your flag on social media, further amplifying the call for justice.
This blog piece is inspired by an interview with Kacey Keeton, one of the lawyers who is representing Rocky Myers, a Black man who has spent nearly three decades on death row. You can access and read the whole interview here.